Earlier this year we had a holiday to Florida with our 4 year old and then 11 month old. It was our first time travelling with a baby, and our first time travelling long haul as a family (although we did once have an 8 hour delayed and redirected flight to Madeira via Lanzarote when Little B was 2 years old, but that’s a whole other blog post, and one I still don’t have the strength to write).
My husband and I are both fairly confident travellers, but for us, travelling with a baby was a different kettle of fish altogether and a bit daunting. I spent a lot of time before our trip Googling questions about the water in Florida, travelling with ready-made formula milk, car seat rules…the list went on. I couldn’t find everything I wanted to know in one place, so when we got back from our trip, I thought I’d try to write the kind of post that answers all the questions I was asking Google at 11.30pm most nights before we flew.
So, er, here are all the questions I was asking Google at 11.30pm most nights before we flew….
1. Should I take my own baby food and formula?
We did, and although it took up a lot of space in the suitcases (and a large part of the weight allowance!), it was reassuring to know that we had everything we needed for Little W. Obviously, baby food can be bought at supermarkets and pharmacies in the USA, but I didn’t come across the same degree of choice as we have in the UK. Perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough but if I was doing it again, I would still take our own pouches. If nothing else, it means you have lots of space in your case on the way back for those holiday purchases!
Regarding formula, we took both powdered formula and a few ready-made bottles. Formula is also available in the USA of course, but I didn’t see the brand we used (Cow and Gate) and I didn’t want to risk trying out a different kind.
If you’re unsure of what foodstuffs you can legally bring into the USA, have a look at this page on the US Customs and Border Protection website. Knowing that we would have to declare any food we took, I prepared a list of all the food and formula I had packed for Little W so that I could declare it without hopefully having to dig it all out of my suitcase. It turned out that I never needed this, as when I mentioned that I was carrying baby food, I was simply waved through Customs. I’m not sure that this is always the case however, and would still advise declaring any baby food you are carrying – a fine and a telling off would be a rotten start to your holiday!
2. Ready made formula bottles are larger than 100ml. Can I still take them in my hand luggage? What if I need to make up formula on the plane? Can I take water?
This was something that really concerned me. I’d heard all kinds of horror stories but in the end, it turned out that I needn’t have worried. I was allowed through security at Newcastle airport with a large bottle of cooled boiled water and 4 ready made bottles of formula. (Just for the record, my baby isn’t that much of a guzzler, but after an 8 hour flight to Madeira via Lanzarote, you learn to prepare for all eventualities.)
Coming back, at Orlando Airport, I carried the same amount of water and ready made formula (because, you know, 8 hour flights, Lanzarote..etc..), and while the water wasn’t a problem, the formula was, and I was told that they would either have to open each of the bottles of formula to test them, or instead, my husband or I could have a full body pat down. I had to ask the security officer to repeat himself as I couldn’t understand how having no dangerous objects on our persons would mean that the formula was safe… Anyway, we elected the pat down and off we went with the (now somehow totally risk-free) milk.
3. Is a bassinet worth it?
Whether you go for a bassinet (or a baskinet, as the lady on the Aer Lingus counter referred to it), will depend on you and your baby. We opted for a bassinet for both flights but at 11 months, we found that it wasn’t overly comfortable for Little W and he would wake up every time he moved. Smaller babies and babies who are still sleeping on their backs without much wriggling are probably better suited to it in my view.
I’m not sure how it would be on other airlines, but it’s also worth noting that on our Aer Lingus plane, having the bassinet in place meant that we were unable to use the tables of the two seats directly in front of it. Luckily we had all 4 seats in our row to ourselves so my husband and Little B left the seat next to me free and could use their tables further along the row. Had the plane been full though, it would have been quite a squeeze and fairly uncomfortable.
This is a tricky one. We hired our car from Alamo and hired car seats for both our little ones. I’m no expert, but I didn’t feel confident that the seats we hired would protect them in an accident as well as their UK car seats. They seemed to have less support around the head and sides of the body, particularly Little W’s car seat. If we did it again, I think I would try to take our own (which, if we had the same luggage again, would probably involve hiring a Sherpa to get us to Orlando….).
The car hire people took a fairly ‘hands off’ approach when it came to the car seats and I can only think that this was for insurance reasons. They had us choose and fit our own seats. When we struggled, they came over to assist, but still had my husband do the actually fitting himself. Be prepared for this if your flight lands late at night and your children are not in the mood to hang around….
5. We’re travelling with an older child too. How do we go about taking a buggy board?
This was our situation, and while we had experience of taking a pushchair to the gate and putting it in the hold, we didn’t have a clue how we should transport the buggy board which had to be detached from the pushchair when we folded it up. We ended up buying one of these stroller travel bags from Amazon. I think they’d be a bit overkill if you were just transporting a pushchair, but it was great for keeping the buggy board with the pushchair, without having to resort to using cable ties or suchlike.
6. Is the tap water in Florida safe for babies, or should we use bottled water?
As far as I understand, babies should not be given bottled water to drink because of the mineral content. Walmart, and probably other supermarkets and pharmacies sell bottles of distilled water for babies at a very reasonable price. This looked to be a decent alternative to regular bottled water if you wanted to go down that route, but personally, we found the tap water to be fine. Of course we boiled it first in the same way as we would boil it in the UK. Little W had no issue with it, either as a drink with his meals, or when it was used to make up formula.
And finally, my most frequently asked question in the weeks leading up to our trip:
7. How on earth do we get everything there?
This hit me about a month before we went. How do we manage to carry everything we need, AND two children?! Of course, the stock response from people will always be ‘They have shops there, you know’. Yes, they do. But we had a baby and I wanted the peace of mind that I’d have everything with us and wouldn’t need to rush to the supermarket for wipes or nappies or a Calpol equivalent as soon as we got there.
23kg per suitcase always seems a very generous allowance, until you start packing. If you’re struggling to fit everything in, there are a couple of things you could consider:
Pre-order your heavy items to collect at Boots, airside
Nappies, wipes and baby food (along with other products) can all be ordered from Boots, airside at the airport. Some branches will require you to place an order at least a week in advance of your trip. You can then pick up your order after you’ve cleared security so those all those nappies and Ella’s Kitchens won’t count towards your hold luggage allowance, and as I understand it, will be treated the same as a Duty Free purchase so won’t count towards your hand luggage allowance either.
Please note that I have no personal experience of doing this, so check with your airline to be sure. The key thing is to make sure that you’re ordering from the airside branch of Boots.
Check your airline’s infant luggage allowance
We travelled with Aer Lingus and I was surprised to learn (about 3 days before we left!) that despite not having to pay for a ticket, our 11 month old still got a 10kg hold luggage allowance. I cannot explain how thrilled I was to find this out. Obviously any allowance will depend on the airline and the type of ticket you have, but it’s definitely worth a quick call to your airline to check!
Take the essentials and buy the rest there
You’re not going to the ends of the earth and you will find everything you need in Orlando or nearby. Wherever you’re staying, you probably won’t have to go too far to find a GINORMOUS Walmart full of everything you will need (and plenty of stuff you don’t, but will still end up buying). Gigantic jar of cheese balls, anyone?
Have you travelled to Florida, or just long haul with a baby? Have any tips to share? Let me know in the comments below.